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Board rescinds work reduction mandate

BACKUS - Cass County Board voted Tuesday to rescind for 2011 the mandate set in 2010 to require county employees to reduce their work hours by 64 during the year.

The mandate was equivalent to cutting annual pay by 3 percent from union contracts which otherwise would have given a 3 percent raise in 2010. The effect was to keep annual wages paid at 2009 levels in 2010.

Not only did employees object to losing a pay raise last year, but some department heads found it difficult to complete all the needed work in their departments with reduced staff work time. The board's personnel committee (Commissioners Jim Dowson and Dick Downham) recommended returning to full work hours in 2011.

Since the recession began, Cass County has reduced the number of employees in several departments as a cost saving measure and because some workloads had dropped.

 Tuesday, the board also met in closed session with the board's contract legal counsel on strategy for 2011 and 2012 labor negotiations with unions representing most of the county's employees. No report was given following the closed session.

Sheriff Tom Burch won board approval to create a new lieutenant position in that department to work as a shift commander and to hire a replacement sergeant to fill the vacancy created by Burch promoting Sgt. L. Scott Thompson to the new lieutenant position.

 The commissioners authorized distributing budgeted 2011 contributions to the following organizations: $37,500 to Cass County Economic Development Corporation, $1,500 and to Mississippi Headwaters Board.

 They referred to the budget committee funding requests from the fairs at Pine River and Pillager after Pine River fair representatives Terri Foster and Barb Fredrick appeared before the board to request more funding than the board had approved earlier.

In recent years, the board has given equal amounts to the two fairs. This year, each is budgeted to receive $5,000 from the county. Pine River is asking for $7,500.

Foster and Frederick, who represented the Cass County Agricultural Association (Cass County Fair Board), emphasized the importance the Pine River fair provides to the 4-H program. It is the only Cass County event from which 4-H members can qualify to enter the state 4-H competitions.

They contend, because the Pillager fair, run by Cass County Agricultural Society, is not a qualifying fair leading to 4-H entries into state fair competition, that the county should give a larger sum to the Pine River event.

Pillager representatives will be asked to appear before the board after the county budget committee has reviewed both groups' 2011 requests again.

The board authorized department heads to purchase either by open bid or under the state contract all items authorized in the 2011 equipment replacement budget. This will include a new road grader and packer and three trucks for the highway department; two used vehicles for the assessor; six squad cars, a transport van and two ice suits for the sheriff; four used vehicles for health, human and veterans services; survey and field equipment for the land department; and a variety of computer and digital upgrades for various departments.

Total cost is expected to run $1,193,098.

The board voted to sign contracts for two federal Homeland Security Grant Program grants through the state of Minnesota and to distribute funds to 11 northeastern Minnesota region counties for emergency management critical infrastructure.

Counties to share $234,000 grant money are Cass, Crow Wing, Aitkin, Koochiching, Itasca, Kanabec, Pine, Carlton, Saint Louis, Lake and Cook.

This will develop a list of critical resources available within the region that each county can access in the event of an emergency. It will include not only existing emergency services for ambulance, fire and police protection, but also will include resources for resorting such other services electricity.

It will help the regional counties to know where they can get help quickly within the region rather than having to call St. Paul to location something to restore an interrupted service here, according to Kerry Swenson, Cass emergency services director, said.